I was reading through Mosiah some time ago, and read again of Alma as he first believed the words of Abinadi, and then began to teach others the gospel. As I read I was struck by the wording used by Alma as he taught the people. The passage in chapter 18 of Mosiah is well known as it relates what we often refer to as some of the covenants we make in baptism, but two things struck me which I hadn’t noticed before
The first is about the name of the location of their meeting and baptisms. You will recall that it is called Mormon, and although the origins and meaning of this name may not be clear, the language used to describe the location is interesting. The record states that the name was given by “the king” (which king we don’t know), that it was in the borders of the land (I assume this means bordering Lamanite territory), and that it was often infested by wild beasts (see Alma 18:4). So a place that is adjacent to violent enemies and infested with dangerous animals doesn’t sound like an idyllic setting to say the least! Alma was looking for somewhere to hide from the wicked king, though, so perhaps it isn’t a surprise he chose somewhere he thought they were less likely to be discovered.
I believe the key phrase here is in the next verse, though, where we read that in this place there was “a fountain of pure water” (Alma 18:5). There seems to me to be an implication of the wording as it is, that this fountain is the principle reason that Alma has chosen this spot – or at least why it becomes so significant. The place called Mormon may not have been considered the perfect spot by many – it was dangerous being in the borders of the land, possibly with aggressive Lamanites nearby, and certainly with wild and dangerous animals – but it has a fountain of pure water. This brings to mind the fountain of living waters Nephi refers to, being a companion to the Tree of Life, both of which represent the Love of God, as manifest through the Saviour (1 Nephi 11:25).
And, in fact, the same joy that entered the hearts of those who partook of the fruit of the Tree of Life, would enter those who entered the pure waters of Mormon,
“And now it came to pass that all this was done in Mormon, yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer; yea, and how blessed are they, for they shall sing to his praise forever.” (Mosiah 18:30)
Those from the great and spacious building pointed mocking fingers at those at the Tree of Life – it wasn’t a “trendy” place to be. Similarly, the Waters of Mormon weren’t considered desirable. They were, however, beautiful, “to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer”. It is the inevitable paradox of those places which the world considers to be boring or undesirable, that they simultaneously can be the places of greatest value and highest joy – for those with eyes to see, with ears to hear, and with hearts to understand.
So, we have Alma and the believers who have gathered to this place of pure waters, and there they are baptized. Alma describes the desires necessary for baptism,
“…as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death…what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?” (Mosiah 18:8-10)
Alma here notes six things which, if accompanied with baptism, enable the Lord’s Spirit to be poured upon us “more abundantly”. These are:
Desirous to –
- come into the fold of God
- be called his people
and, be Willing to –
- bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light
- mourn with those that mourn
- comfort those that stand in need of comfort
- stand as witnesses of God
In this list from Alma, therefore, we have a requirement of desires, accompanied with actions (notably actions for the benefit of others), that brings the full blessings of the baptismal covenant.
Before I talk about that, however, I would like to focus on the four words highlighted above, and rather than discuss them in context of how we seek to bless others in these areas as part of our baptismal covenants, look at the pattern it gives.
We all have burdens placed upon us which, at the very least initially, provide some degree of sorrow or mourning on our part. Through the Atonement of Christ we can be made whole, and through the grace of Christ we are therefore comforted. Having been through this process, we are then enabled to more fully stand as witnesses of the Atoning power of Christ. As I look at my own life, I see this pattern repeated time and time again, always in the same order: a burden, which leads to mourning, with comfort ultimately arriving, and concluding with a greater witness of Christ. I initially self-titled this the “Burden Cycle”, but I’ve renamed it the “Witness Cycle” because it’s not ultimately about the burdens we carry – it’s about the witness we gain.
I don’t think it is coincidental that the same group of people to whom Alma was teaching these principles would soon experience the same pattern, which experience is recorded in Mosiah. After they established a new city which they called Helam, they were then placed in bondage by the Lamanites. But as we look at their experience again in the context of their baptismal covenants, we note this pattern.
We first see the burdens placed upon them,
“And now it came to pass that Amulon began to exercise authority over Alma and his brethren, and began to persecute him, and cause that his children should persecute their children…. Amulon… exercised authority over them, and put tasks upon them, and put task-masters over them.” (Mosiah 24:8-9)
These burdens caused the people to mourn,
“And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God…. And Alma and his people… did pour out their hearts to him….” (Mosiah 24:10, 12)
The Lord responded to their petitions,
“And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage. And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage….” (Mosiah 24:13-14).
What would be the ultimate consequence of this?
“…that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter….” (Mosiah 24:14).
This pattern is explained explicitly in Mosiah as Mormon the abridger was seeking to demonstrate this “Witness Cycle” principle in action, but the same pattern is found throughout the scriptures. At the very beginning of the Book of Mormon Lehi’s family enter the wilderness – their burden – and in chapter 5 of 1st Nephi we read of Sariah “…[complaining] against my father” (1 Nephi 5:3), her mourning. This is followed by Lehi speaking to her, “And after this manner of language did my father, Lehi, comfort my mother, Sariah…” (1 Nephi 5:6), which is then followed by Sariah witnessing, “Now I know of a surety… that the Lord hath protected my sons.” (1 Nephi 5:8)
I see this pattern repeated in my own life time after time. It is an intentional part of our mortal journey.
What are we to be witnesses of? When we have burdens placed upon us, we do not need to carry them alone.
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matt 11:28-29).
When our afflictions start to bite, and the pain grows, we need not mourn on our own,
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows….” (Isaiah 53:4).
Ultimately, the Lord will be by us through all our afflictions and will comfort us,
“Break forth into joy; sing together ye waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord hath comforted his people….” (Mosiah 12:23)
Thus, we are then able to stand as witnesses of the Saviour’s grace and mercy that comes because of His atoning sacrifice; of His power to lift, and carry; to comfort and to heal.
The Lord doesn’t solely gives us trials and afflictions (or allow us to be tried and afflicted), purely for our own personal growth and development – although clearly that is one important purpose. He expects us, having been through the cycle, and having had the comfort provided through the grace of Christ, to provide a witness to others. I think that is a powerful concept, and at least in my own life I have some repenting to do from times when the Lord bore me up, He kept me going, and carried me when necessary – and, having made it through the other side, I have inwardly thanked Him for His mercy and then got on with my life. Far too often I have missed the part about witnessing of His mercy and grace. It shows, on my part, a lack of appropriate gratitude, and a selfishness that, having made it through some difficult period or other, I have thought only – or at least primarily – about me, and about how I now feel “post-burden”.
Nonetheless, I can, and do, stand as a witness of the Saviour’s grace. He has given me strength when I had none of my own. When the challenges I have been called to face have been simply too much for me, He has been at my side, taking the weight that I could not bear. When I have felt alone and the tears have fallen, He has been there, gently and tenderly wiping away those tears. At times I have only recognised that help as I have looked back, but I cannot deny that it has been there, providing me what was needed at the time. His love for us is beyond our ability to grasp, and the frequency with which He intervenes in our lives to bring help and comfort is, I believe, far greater than we recognise.
And with that we return to the baptismal covenant. We there covenant, according to Alma, that we will do those very things that the Saviour does for us – that we will help to carry the burdens of others; that we will mourn with those that mourn; that we will comfort those that stand in need of comfort. How do we do this?
Firstly, we seek to serve others. As we grow in our love for others, we will increasingly notice the times when they have burdens to carry, and will do all we can to lighten the load. As we notice those who are mourning we will more fully feel to mourn with them, and in so doing we will be better able to comfort them. In this way, we develop more fully Christ-like love. The pure love of Christ is something that develops within us, and is then something we are better able to share.
And this leads to something that for me is rather sobering. As our capacity to share the love of Christ with others grows, we become, in a way, agents of the blessings of the Atonement. Elder M Russell Ballard stated,
“Can the Master touch others’ lives through you and me? Oh yes, he can, and he will if we will just do our part….we can feel the Savior’s touch, and we can help others feel that divine touch. We can bless each other by reaching out to the wayward youth, the inactive adult, the widowed, the aged, the sick, and to all of God’s children everywhere, member and nonmember of the Church alike.” (Elder M Russell Ballard, The Savior’s Touch, Oct 1980 General Conference)
And President Kimball taught,
“God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” (As quoted by President Dieter F Uchtdorf, Waiting on the Road to Damascus, April 2011 General Conference).
As we learn to serve and seek to bless others, it is still, of course, the Saviour’s love and His grace that blesses, that heals and comforts. Of ourselves, we have no ability to heal another’s soul. But as we seek to love others as the Saviour loves them, and as we then desire and seek to be guided by the Spirit in all that we do, we will find that we become effective instruments in the Lord’s hands, enabling His power, His grace and His love to touch the lives of others. To me, that is a beautiful thought – that when I diligently serve others whether that be in a calling or simply as a neighbour, I am making myself available as an agent of the Atonement of Christ. When I choose to say a kind word to someone, or follow through on a prompting to pick up the telephone to someone, or help someone dry a tear – in all these instances and in so many more, we are making ourselves available as agents of the Atonement. We are acting as conduits through which the Saviour can extend His grace and mercy. It once again expands, to me, the meaning of taking upon myself His name through the covenants I have made.
And at the end of each cycle of carrying burdens, of mourning, and of comforting – whether it be a cycle of trial within our own lives or whether it be our supporting of another through their own cycle of trial – we are able to finish standing as a witness of the healing, atoning power of Jesus Christ; ultimately able to do so “…at all times and in all things, and in all places that [we] may be in.” (Alma 18:9), and hopefully we are helping others to do so too.